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Tom Quayle: Making Backing Tracks Part 1: Drum Grooves

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 48 **

Hey guys and welcome to this new lesson series for the magazine on creating backing tracks. Whilst my left arm is out of action following a fall and subsequent fractured elbow, I thought I’d put this series together aimed at helping you understand some of the processes and options available to you in order to create your own high quality backing tracks.

Good quality backing tracks are an incredibly useful practice tool for working on improvisational skills. A great sounding track can be hugely inspiring and allow you to develop your playing without having the pressure of a live environment. This series should help you to feel more confident in producing your own practice tracks without having any prior knowledge and is aimed at even the lowest budget. Providing you have an audio interface of some description and a guitar you are good to go. Over the series, we’ll be covering both OSX and Windows software platforms and I aim to show you some transferable skills that will work with whatever DAW you are working in.

For today’s session, we will be starting with drums as our focus and will be specifically working in possibly the most popular and most affordable professional DAW of the day, Logic Pro X on the Mac. I love to start with drums when I create backing tracks since a great sounding groove inspires me in so many ways and can often be a great launch pad for the other elements of your track. Starting with drums may seem a little daunting at first, especially if you have no programming skills and wouldn’t know a kick drum from a hi-hat, but Logic has some amazing tools to help you create very convincing drum tracks in just a few clicks, without relying on the same boring 8-bar drum loop copied and pasted over a 5-minute backing track.

All of the tools we are looking at here can also be found in Garage Band on the Mac too, which is a free and surprisingly powerful cut down version of Logic available from the app store. Similar tools can also be found on the iOS version of Garage Band, although the sound and groove quality is not as good as the OSX version or Logic. For those who don’t use Logic or are Windows users, I urge you to check out ‘EZ Drummer 2’ from ‘Toontrack’, or ‘Stylus RMX Expanded’ from ‘Spectrasonics’, that are excellent, but more costly alternatives with even more features than the built-in options in Logic Pro X and Garage Band.

The reason that Logic is so useful for creating drum tracks is that it has a dedicated feature and track type designed for exactly this job, complete with a user interface that is both intuitive and highly powerful for shaping said tracks to your needs. Upon opening Logic you will be asked what kind of a project you wish to create. Simply create an empty project with no tracks and Logic will bring up a dialogue box requesting you to choose a track type to add to your session. Select the Drummer track type and click done and you will see that Logic has created a new Drummer track and populated it with two different regions. These Drummer regions contain all the individual hits that are triggering extremely high quality drum samples that are both recorded and realistically programmed in house by Apple. If you now hit play you will hear Logic play back the two drum regions and they will always follow any tempo changes you make to the project at any time.

You will notice the interface at the bottom allows you to adjust an array of parameters in order to shape your groove and select from a drop down menu of styles and drummers, each with their own unique styles and groove presets. You can also select from a huge number of different drum sets, even swapping out individual drums from within each set until you find the sound you are looking for. The interface works by using a simple X/Y grid where you can move between loud and soft dynamics and simple and complex grooves. You can even turn on and off individual parts within the drum kit to create grooves with specific drums in, such as just high-hat intro parts, or kick and snare only, as required by your track. Each part of the kit can be made more complex individually within the groove using simple sliders to increase the number of hits per measure and percussion can be added very easily in the same manner. You can even create swing grooves for Blues shuffles or a 16th note funk feel if that’s what you need. The control is impressive but extremely easy to operate and should allow you to tailor the drum parts to exactly what you need with the appropriate amount of tweaking.

The biggest consideration should always be to create drum tracks that are dynamic in nature. Listening to the same 8-bar loop for 5 minutes is never going to inspire anyone, whereas an organic drum track that gets louder and softer, adds and removes percussion, has an intro and an outro plus great sounding fills, will always appeal to people more and will inspire you to play more musically as you react dynamically to the music you are hearing. Drummer tracks within Logic or Garage band allow you to do this quickly and easily whilst getting fantastic sounding results. Of course, as mentioned earlier, if you don’t have Logic, there are third party alternatives out there such as EZ Drummer 2 and Cubase’s Groove Agent that will do the same thing – we just simply can’t cover them all in a 25-minute-long video.

I encourage you to now watch the video tutorial where I go through the interface in depth and create a simple drum groove with dynamics that flow naturally. In the next session we’ll be using a drum groove that I have created using Logic’s Drummer track to add bass and guitars. Have fun experimenting with this and creating grooves of your own – the options are pretty much endless.

See you in the next issue – Tom!

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